Red Bulls, MLS, soccer

New York Red Bulls 2021 Season Preview

This past offseason, the New York Red Bulls were able to sign three players to MLS contracts and add eight players on loan. The 2021 Major League Soccer season is the start of a new era of Red Bulls soccer under head coach Gerhard Struber.

Near the end of the 2020 Major League Soccer (MLS) season the New York Red Bulls hired Gerhard Struber to be their new head coach. The 44-year-old Austrian comes to New York on the backs of a successful stint in England where he helped Championship League side, F.C. Barnsley avoid being relegated to a lower division in the final 15 matches.

The 44-year-old also takes over the Red Bulls head coaching gig, with an understanding of the Red Bulls philosophy, stemming from his career as a player and academy coach with New York's 'sister-club,' Red Bulls Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga.

During the winter, New York Red Bull sporting director, Kevin Thelwell started his second year in charge with a bang! Thelwell was able to add six midfielders, four defenders and one goalkeeper to the Red Bull roster, this offseason.

In addition, to bringing in some solid-looking MLS players, the New York Red Bulls signed three players, who are younger than 20-years-old. They include, Bento Estrela, a 16-year-old midfielder who hails from Bloomfield New Jersey and 18-year-old Wikelman Carmona. The Red Bulls started targeting Carmona in 2019, where the young midfielder scored one goal in three matches at the 2019 U-17 South American Championships.

Who's Not Returning in 2021

The Red Bulls didn't just sign 11 new players, they also parted ways with some key players. Tim Parker was traded in January and Marc Rzatkowski contract was not renewed this offseason. Both were both starting-eleven players and important veterans on the Red Bulls 2018 team that won the Supporter’s Shield and made it to the 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Finals.

As of now, Alejandro 'Kaku' Gamarra has been transferred to Al-Taawoun FC in the Saudi Professional League (SPL). On April 3, 2021, the New York Red Bulls posted this statement regarding Kaku's transfer.

According to ESPN's reporting, the disagreement between Kaku and the New York Red Bulls revolves around Kaku and his agent's claim that they were never notified that his contract-option had been exercised during the offseason for the 2021 MLS season. As of April 3, 2021, "the arbitrator" has decided that the New York Red Bulls did exercise Kaku's option for 2021 and that "a valid contract exists between Kaku and MLS through Dec. 31. 2021."

The Red Bulls will miss Kaku, who played the 'number-ten' role (reserved for an attacking midfielder who plays directly behind the striker) may eventually allow the club's youngest midfielders to grow. Perhaps the Red Bulls will focus more on developing young midfield-talents like Bento Estrela, 16, and Wikelman Carmona. Now, Red Bull fans, let's inform you about the team's biggest signings this offseason.

The Returning Starters

Midfielder Caden Clark will look to continue in 2021 the success he had in 2020. Last season, the 17-year-old phenom burst onto the MLS-Scene when he scored a one-time volley in his first MLS game against Atlanta United. The Minnesota-native then added two more goals last season; he ripped 'upper-ninety' against 2020 MLS Supporter's Shield-winners, Toronto FC, and scored in the Red Bulls' first-round-loss to eventual MLS Cup Champions, Columbus Crew SC, in the first round of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup playoffs.

U.S. men's national team and 2018 MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long is going to be a leader on this year's Red Bulls team. During two games in March, the 28-year-old Long was the starting center-back for the U.S. against Jamaica and Northern Ireland. This is how Head coach Gerhard Struber described what Long's role will be on the Red Bulls in 2021.

"He's the face of the team. He's a very important player and I'm looking forward to him coming back fit and healthy from the National Team. For the club, he's a role model of what we need from the performance side [of things]."  - Red Bulls head coach, Gerhard Struber

Currently, the two oldest players (excluding goalkeepers) on the Red Bulls are midfielders Daniel Royer (30) and Sean Davis (28). On Feb. 27, 2020, the New York Red Bulls named Sean Davis their captain. On that day, Davis became the first "Homegrown Player" to be named captain in New York Red Bulls history. Before Davis, Club Goalkeeping Legend, Luis Robles was captain for the 2018 and 2019 MLS seasons.

Christian Casseres Jr. and Florian Valot are two box-to-box midfielders who the Red Bulls will rely on as key cogs in their midfield machine. Dru Yearwood, 21 spent his first season with the Red Bulls in 2020. He started his first-ever MLS Playoff game on Nov. 21 against the 2020 MLS Cup Champions, Columbus Crew. The New York Red Bulls have plenty of depth in the midfield. They also have Dru Yearwood and Christian Casseres Jr. two midfielders who logged solid minutes last season.

Brian White returns to the team for the 2021 MLS Season, after leading the team in goal-scoring last season. The forward from Flemington, New Jersey will have to compete with Fabio, who the Red Bulls loaned from FC Oeste in the Brazilian second tier division and homegrown striker, Tom Barlow for minutes this season, as he looks to solidify his role as the team's primary offensive threats, heading into opening day of the 2021 MLS Season.

Adding Depth on Defense

This offseason, the New York Red Bulls added some depth to their backline when they signed Colombian center-back Andres Reyes from Colombia's top-flight. In 2020, the 21-year-old made 13 appearances for Inter Miami F.C. and in the past he has represented Colombia at the U-20 FIFA World Cup.

The Red Bulls Head of Sport, Kevin Thelwell described the things he heard about Reyes, prior to signing him this winter.

“Andres is a player with very high potential and a very talented young player, who fits what we believe is going to be our identity going forward. We had very good reports on him not only in terms of his attitude and his mentality around games but also in terms of training."
- Sporting Director, Kevin Thelwell

In addition to Andrés Reyes, New York Red Bull loaned two full backs:  Tom Edwards who has spent the last five seasons at Stoke City in the English Championship and Andrew Gutman who the Red Bulls loaned in exchange for their 2024 "Natural MLS SuperDraft pick" and "up to $50,000 in general allocation money if certain performance incentives are reached" by Gutman.

In 2018, Gutman won the Herman Award that is given to the "best college soccer player in the United States," after his senior year at Indiana University. In 2019, Gutman started out with the USL's Charlotte Independence and has since made 31 appearances for FC Cincinnati in Major League Soccer.

Head of Sport Thelwell has given coach Struber a lot of options to choose from in terms of fullbacks. In addition to Edwards and Gutman, the Red Bulls have 2020 starter Kyle Duncan who reached career-highs in goals, assists, and games played last season as well as Jason Pendant, who started 17 games in 2020 at left-back during his first season in MLS.

Red Bulls Former Goalie Coach, Des McAleenan Passes Away

It was a very sad day for the world, the MLS Soccer family and the New York Red Bulls when the club's former goalkeeping coach, Des McAleenan passed away at 53-years-old on Feb. 27, 2021. According to US Soccer.com, McAleenan "launched his professional coaching career with the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer" and spent "almost ten years with the organization."

The native of Dublin, Ireland trained two natives of New Jersey and American soccer legends, Tim Howard and Tony Meola Meola was a three-time MLS All Star with the New York Metrostars (1996-98) and started for the U.S. at three World Cups. Howard, who was born and raised in North Brunswick, New Jersey, played for the New York Metrostars early in his career, before he made the move to Manchester United, who Howard played for for three seasons. In 2006, Howard was loaned out to Everton FC who he would start in net for during the next ten years in the English Premier League.

After his time with the Red Bulls was over, McAleenan was hired as the goalkeeping coach for the U.S. Men's National Team U-18s. McAleenan was the goalkeepers coach on United States U-20 teams that made it to the quarterfinals at the 2017 and 2019 U-20 World Cups. Here is a quote from former U.S. U-20 Team Head Coach Tab Ramos on the passing of his friend and former colleague, Des McAleenan.

"Wherever he went, Des put a smile on someone's face," Ramos said. "He was an exceptionally gifted coach and teacher and brought such an amazing spirit each and every day. I was lucky to work with him as a colleague and even luckier to call him a friend." - Former U.S. U-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos

A Goalkeeping Trio

At a Zoom conference on Mar. 26 from Red Bulls Training Camp, the Red Bulls' play-by-play announcer, Steve Cangialosi asked head coach Struber if any one of the three goalkeepers “had the inside track to earning the starting job" and Struber replied.

"We have talent and experience at the goalkeeping position and a goalkeeping coach in Jyri Niemenen who can help [guide] each goalkeeper in the right way and I think for everyone this is a big win-win."

- Gerhard Struber

The Red Bulls loaned goalkeeper Carlos Colonel,  from Red Bulls Salzburg this offseason. The Brazilian started his professional career at Red Bulls Brazil. During the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Colonel started three games for Red Bulls Salzburg, where he went 1-1-1. The Brazilian also made four starts for Philadelphia Union during the 2020 MLS season, going 4-0-0 and conceding two goals.

It's been two years since Luis Robles left the New York Red Bulls, and ever since, New York have been looking in vain for the a successor.  Heading into this season, Carlos Colonel is in the mix to become the starting goalkeeper with veterans Ryan Meara and 'the Big Dane' David Jensen.

The Latest from Florida

New York Red Bulls' new head coach has just begun working with his new roster, that will take the field at Red Bull Arena this season. One of these exciting talents is attacking midfielder, Cameron Harper, who joined the Red Bulls from Celtic this offseason.

The 19-year-old from Sacramento, California described what made him want to don a New York Red Bulls uniform this season.

"The team just suits my style. They’re very attacking, a lot of high-intensity running and that’s what I like to do. I think especially at my age, I need opportunities and they were very honest with me from the beginning, that I’m going to get my opportunities.”

- New York Red Bulls Midfielder Cameron Harper

Struber described what the future may hold for Harper.

"We will work with him to prepare him for every opponent, this is my goal, and also [help Cameron] understand the difficult Red Bull identity. He's very hungry and this is a win-win situation for us."

- Gerhard Struber

The Red Bulls also loaned Andrew Gutman from Atlanta United and the young defender described what the experience at Red Bull training camp has been for him, so far.

"The biggest difference that I’ve seen here is there’s already an established culture. The leaders are very vocal here [which is] a big part of every team. Everybody knowing their roles and leadership." -

- Andrew Gutman

The Red Bulls play their first match of the 2021 MLS Season on the road against Sporting Kansas City on April 17, at 8:00 PM. After a long winter and a pandemic, it will be great for fans to see the new-look New York Red Bulls take the field on opening day!